Michael Oman

MY STORIES:

MY BLOG:

The economy. When I first heard our beat topic would focus on Utah’s economy I was a bit frightened. Ok, maybe more like terrified. It’s a huge — often very complex — issue to cover. What I failed to realize is how interconnected every facet of our lives is to the economy. That soon changed. In fact, the greatest lesson I learned reporting on Utah’s economy is how fragile it truly is.

One area where this seems most evident is in regards to community-based art education — or CBAE. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to describe CBAE as having permanent residency underneath a guillotine. In other words, due to ongoing economic turmoil these programs are constantly under threat of losing funding. Many CBAE programs in Utah are operated through local universities like the University of Utah, which rely upon government funding. Although Utah’s economy is improving, reporting on the arts illustrated just how difficult convincing legislators not to cut funding to a university’s art department can be.

Part of the problem, my sources explained, is that the arts are under appreciated. It’s easy to do. After all, how does gathering a group of kids to snap a few photos or paint pictures on a tile walkway benefit anyone? The natural answer always seems to be, “It doesn’t.” But you’d be wrong. I was wrong. Community art provides much more than a pretty walkway. Contrary to popular belief, after-school art programs aren’t just a free goof-off hour for kids. It’s actually a place serious learning occurs. I should know, I’ve seen the stack of lesson plans for the University of Utah’s “Art in the Community” class.

Here’s what I think many miss. These kids are safe. Many CBAE projects tend to take place after school hours, so parents don’t have to worry about where their children are. The child is not on the corner buying drugs or home alone. He or she is in a safe, structured environment where, although individual creativity is encouraged, there is a strong emphasis on education.

My biggest battle was figuring out how to best obtain the children’s background information — what’s their life story? Many of the participants in CBAE projects live in poverty. How do you talk about that with a child? The short answer: you don’t. Still, I pondered the SPJ code of ethics for days searching for the answer, lost somewhere between being truthful and doing no harm. Ultimately, my undergraduate status guided my decision. In my mind, nothing justifies causing any harm to a child for an undergraduate news story.

There were a few challenges reporting the effect Utah’s economy plays on CBAE; yet, it was a really enlightening experience, forever changing how I view the arts. I failed to understand how valuable art actually is. Who knew it could touch so many different aspects of a person’s life?

This experience broadened the scope of topics I hope to cover as a journalist. Education has always been in the forefront of my mind. It seems that very little reporting is done on the subject. News reports on art education are less common. It’s something I think needs to change.

To me, journalism is a science. It’s objective and doesn’t take sides. It’s fact-driven. When evidence suggests something to be true however, there’s a fundamental duty to inform the public. This is the one rule I’ll live by throughout my career as a journalist. It’s the reason I’ll fight to give art education the voice it readily deserves.

ABOUT ME:

Five o’clock. Time for the evening news. This was the nightly ritual my family practiced ever since I could speak. Admittedly, it’s a boring routine for a five-year-old, but my dad’s obsession with current events quickly rubbed off on me. Often times I pictured myself as the journalist in the field covering the latest turmoil in the Middle East or interviewing the scientist who discovered a neighboring planet. What inspired me the most back then was the thought that, “Hey, it’d be cool if Dad watched my segment every night.”

While my dad was, undoubtedly, a huge influence, I partially attribute my increasing obsession with journalism to growing up in the small town of Price. Not much exciting happened there. I often yearned to escape to a place where something interesting actually happened — a place where the biggest story of the day didn’t revolve around rescuing cats from trees. Other children would probably relieve their boredom through video games or cartoons. I did too but, ironically, I was much more content dreaming of being in front of the camera.

Despite my love for journalism, it actually wasn’t my original plan early on in my academic career. I always nurtured my artistic side and, as a result, I pursued a graphic design degree. That was easier said than done. My associate degree came quickly enough and was relatively pain-free. However, once I reached the university level there was no equivalent degree. There was one option: start over. So, here I sit inside my intermediate journalism summarizing my own unique life journey. Here I am, falling back upon a childhood obsession — something that was clearly meant to be. Hey Dad! It’s five o’clock, let’s get started.